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When looking back at all the artworks that at some point made their way to the NBB Gallery, one thing becomes apparent: Cats are a topic of many exhibited paintings and drawings. As one of the most beloved pets, cats have naturally always been subjects of artworks and play their own part of the history of art. Cats were worshiped by the ancient Egyptians but feared for their mysterious nocturnal lifestyle in the Middle-Ages. During the 19th Century sort of a cat renaissance happened thanks to impressionism and today there is an abundance of pet photos and even celebrity pet fan-accounts on social media. The human-cat relationship is an interesting one to observe. Inspired by the artists who exhibited at NBB in today’s post we invite you to have a closer look at the NBB cats.

An inherent connection: Sophie Vallance Cantor and her cat portraits
Sophie Vallance Cantor Botoño on paper, 2020; Sneaky Prawn Botoño, 2020; Grumpy Otoño, 2020

Sophie Vallance Cantor is a British artists who has owned and raised several cats. In her work we find orange and black cats as well as bigger felines such as tigers and panthers. Just like her portraits of humans, Cantor’s cat portraits approach the subject sensitively witch much attention to the overall temperament of the subject. In her words from an embroidery on her jacket, Cantor is a “Pussy Queen”, truly a queen of cats. Sometimes she includes cats even in her self-portraits be it as companions or as a tattoo. Cats are something inherent and indispensable for her art and herself. In some of her paintings there is a unification of human and a cat apparent – as if the cat gradually merged into a human, and the human merged into a cat. In her past work, Cantor even depicted cats in aristocratic collars referencing the old masters. Seen that way, cats are even elevated to a royalty resembling the Egyptian adoration of cats. "As the work progressed, they sort of became a symbol of the protector for me. When I'm struggling with things in my life, my cats are there for me. Through history also, cats have a big symbolism as protectors," said Cantor in her interview with i-D in 2017.

Mason Saltarelli 030, 2020

Respected, adored, but also a part of the artists support system – Cantor’s art is a unique and personal celebration of cats. The paintings radiate inviting and warm energy and the subject of cats provides a homy atmosphere given by the softness of the palette.

Cats and lockdowns: Mason Saltarrelli’s “Paper Fables” 

During the pandemic the Brooklyn based artist Mason Saltarrelli created a series of abstract drawings called “Paper Fables”. What was first intended to keep him preoccupied during long lockdowns has evolved into a project which brought him closer with his audience. “People are lost in stresses and anxieties. I don’t want to add to it. I would rather give someone a break,” said Saltarrelli for GQ. His drawings invite the viewer to project their own narratives and to find comfort by doing so. Among abstract objects and other animal characters in the Paper Fables, we find there a significant number of drawings of cats. Drawn in vibrant color shades, the cats seem to be protagonists of a story or a fairytale. Especially during the times of lockdowns such fantasy-evoking images provide the much needed escapism. We can only speculate about what kind of adventure each of Saltarelli’s cats was up to in the drawings. The cat in NBB Paperworks show is smiling slyly as if it is committing some trouble, others will say it could be a depiction of Puss in Boots. Drawn with just a few strokes and placed in an abstract landscape, Saltarelli leaves space for any imagination.


A long tradition of admiration: Cats in drawings from Yasushi Inoue 

  • Yasushi Inoue Cat and flower, 2021; Cat, 2021

  • Although cats are not Japanese natives and were probably imported from China, there is a long tradition of honoring cats through art in Japan. Many Japanese artists were devoting their work to portray cats and cats were even honored at the royal court. There are two cat paintings from a Japanese artist Yasushi Inoue at NBB. Just like Sophie Vallance Cantor, Yasushi Inoue is a proud cat owner. Cats, flowers, memories from travels - these art topics of Yasushi’s paintings. For Yasushi, painting is a healing process, a therapy, so that comforting personal topics such as cats naturally became subjects of his art. In the painting called “Cat and Flower” there is a cat with enlarged eyes that resembles the blossoming flower. The color palette includes vibrant shades of orange, yellow, green and blue. The body of the cat becomes one with the background because its body is contoured with just a few large brushstrokes. The other painting at NBB from Yasushi Inoue with a cat (Cat, 2021) as the main character uses a different color palette, yet the simplicity of the composition remained. The eyes play a prominent role and catch the viewer’s attention the most, as if they were trying to communicate with the viewer. Even though visually not connected to the Japanese paintings or the woodblock print tradition, Inoue approaches cats with a similar kindness and respect.

    “Reassurance of my own being in the world“: Denis Rudolf Frank’s cathartic cats

  • Denise Rudolf Frank Bad Cat, 2020; Sally, 2021

    Expressive bald brushstrokes, direct application of color on canvas, somewhat threatening facial expressions. The cats from Denise Rudolf Frank are strong personalities. Painting for Frank is like a diary and a therapy at once, therefore the proces is what interests her the most, not necessarily the outcome. Similarly to other artists at NBB who chose cats as their subjects, Frank likes to focus on topics from around her, from her daily life. However, for Frank painting is a must, it is a catharsis, a “reassurance of my own being in the world“. Frank paints for herself first, for the art world second. Maybe this could be one of the reasons for why her depiction of cats is rather unconventional, the cats look somewhat riled but self-assured and the paintings itself convey a burst of energy. One could see them as monsters, others could be reminded of warm memories of childhood. Indeed, her paintings and their incorporated piece of Frank's inner life must be rather felt than understood.

  • Julien Jaca's cat as a motorcycle club badge

     Julien Jaca The Chosen Few, 2022

    Julien Jaca’s THE SUN NEVER SETS ON ME series revolves around the artist‘s passion for motorcycles. Influenced by aesthetics from his past career as an international tattoo artist and drawing from his personal experience as a human and artist, Jaca creates an intimate setting allowing the viewer to get a glimpse into his world embarking on a journey of vivid colors, craggy textures and deep emotions. The central motive in the series are vests of motorcycle clubs - a statement piece of clothing in the biker scene. However, Jaca’s canvases do not feature any real motorcycle club logo. Every vest consist of a badge and the name of the club which Jaca based on the well-known appearance of the vests from the 1970’s. For the badge for the fictional club "Chosen Few Utopia" Jaca chose a cat head placed in the middle. The black cat seems to be angrily meowing as if it was asserting its dominance which is common for almost all motorcycle club vests with animals in the badge: From snakes to wolves, the animals appear rather powerful and sometimes aggressive, conveying the message behind the club they represent. The uninviting nature of the badge is made up for by the bright yellow background which matches the cat’s eyes and whiskers.


    Photos: © NBB Gallery